The Laird’s Reluctant Bride – Extended Epilogue
Three years later…
Ivy McLeod, Lady of Clan MacKinnon, was the luckiest woman in all of Scotland—despite her rotten luck. She arched her back against the bed, more convinced of that fact with each day that passed, but especially convinced of it on that crisp spring morning in her husband’s bed, as he worked her body devilishly.
Blaine had settled between her legs, lavishing her with naughty kisses as only he knew how. Ear-ly morning sunlight draped over her body, adding to her pleasure. She squeezed her eyes shut tight as Blaine pressed his lips to her heat over the thin fabric of her night chemise, and her hand shot up to cup her own breast.
Her husband hummed against her core, and it set her body on fire. He nipped the skin of her thighs playfully, bunching up the cotton of her gown to tease her.
“Ye’re more a daemon than a laird,” Ivy moaned as he slipped a hand beneath her skirts. “Ye’ve nae a saintly bone in yer body.”
“Only for ye, sweet Ivy,” he purred, exposing her completely and sighing his appreciation. “We both ken ye need a daemon to keep ye on yer toes.” He pressed a kiss between her petals, his hair and beard tickling the skin of her legs, and she bucked against his face. “What was that ye said of saints?”
“I remember naething of what I said,” she panted with a whisper, curling her hands around the quilt and pleading for more wordlessly. “Hush now…”
“So ye’re commanding me, is it?” Blaine teased. Before she could react, his large calloused hands slid down her legs and shot back up, grabbing her by the waist. He pulled her down to straddle her, and Ivy laughed in surprise. “I think nae, my lady—certainly nae on yer birthday.”
Ivy grinned beneath him, wrapping her arms around his neck. “I thought ye’d forgotten.”
“How could I ever?”
“There’s much and more to occupy us now, is there nae? But perhaps, for a moment, there can be only us.” She lifted herself up to trap his lips in hers. Blaine smiled against her mouth, push-ing them down on the bed. Suddenly, a set of high-pitched laughs chimed from beyond the door, and Ivy groaned. “Speaking of which—”
“Let the nurse see to them,” Blaine pleaded, kissing her again. “They’ll be there to greet ye in an hour.”
“An hour?” Ivy exclaimed. She shook her head and pushed her husband away lovingly. “Now ye really are a daemon.”
Ivy wriggled herself free and sat atop the bed. She took a moment to admire her husband, still in disbelief, despite their three years of marriage, how handsome Blaine MacKinnon truly was. He had grown out his hair since first they had met, and it was a touch darker than the sunny blond she had come to love—this color she loved even more. The ends of it lapped against his chin, where a decent scruff had taken form. He had a few more wrinkles than the day of their marriage, little indents at the sides of his eyes and in his forehead. Too much smiling. Too much frowning. She supposed that was a good thing.
He leaned forward to kiss her again, wrapping his hand in her long brown hair. “Happy birth-day, my wife,” he whispered, kissing her again. The voices chimed again, more desperately, and Blaine sighed. “I shall have to give ye my gift later.”
Cocking a brow, Ivy nodded and slipped from the bed before settling in it again. The couple dressed hastily and performed their ablutions—Blaine in his shirt and chausses; Ivy in her morning gown—before the laird moved to open the door.
Two fair-haired little girls came toddling in, one significantly louder than the other. Alba raced through Blaine’s legs, tapping at the edge of the bed. “Mama!” she cried, and Ivy reached for-ward to lift her up into her lap, planting a wet, loving kiss on her daughter’s cheek.
Mirin approached the room more cautiously, settling beside her father. Blaine crouched down to pop the thumb from her mouth, before picking her up into his arms. He pressed his fore-head to hers, and Mirin smiled at last. “There’s my girl,” he said, beaming.
“I’ll send them down to Fiona to break their fasts,” their wet nurse said, lingering in the door-way. She was a portly woman from the burgh, who had recently birthed two sons of her own, and Ivy was more than grateful for her presence. Ivy had taken to motherhood like a duck to water, but juggling two girls was a feat, to say the least. With Blaine traveling often to help with Robert the Bruce’s war effort, she often needed all the help she could get.
“Och, must ye?” Ivy said, offering a gentle smile. “They can stay with us for the time being. Have Fiona send one of the girls up with a trencher or two for us, please. It’s as braw a day as any to get crumbs in the bed.”
“In my bed,” Blaine corrected as Mirin pawed his face.
“As ye wish, me lady, me laird,” the wet nurse said, turning from them and closing the door.
“There’ll be nae quiet today if our Alba has anything to say about it,” Blaine noted, nodding at their bouncing daughter. “I hope ye hadnae wished for peace this morn.”
“Never,” Ivy said, holding Alba tightly against her. The little girl squealed and laughed, kicking her feet as Ivy tickled her. “This is all I need.”
She locked gazes with Blaine and was overcome by a wave of pure, unadulterated joy. Blaine had made clear his fear about becoming a father, but he had surprised her and impressed her with every act of fatherly tenderness. He loved his girls, and they loved him, and Ivy knew she would never have to worry that her daughters would lead lives similar to hers.
Whatever Blaine intended to gift her later that day, she knew nothing could compare to the simple blessing of his presence as a laird, a father, and a husband.
Ivy leaned back on the cloth that Hannah had set out for them in the fields behind the kitch-ens. She fanned her face, both grateful and disquieted by the weather, watching as her girls played a little further on with their nurse.
“They really are beautiful,” Hannah said, propping her elbows on her knees. She glanced over her shoulder, her eyes full of admiration. “I mean really, I cannae believe such sweet bairns came from Blaine.”
Laughing, Ivy closed her eyes to relish the sun instead of fighting it. “Cannae ye? He can be sweet when he wants to be. Naw, but the girls remind me of ye more than anything.”
“What would make ye say that?”
“Their shining hair for one,” Ivy said. Alba’s loudness for another, which she kept to herself.
Hannah turned back to look at them, flicking the hair from her face. It was not so different in length than Blaine’s now. She had taken shears to it one afternoon when she had been particu-larly bored, and despite what the girls in the burgh said, Ivy thought she looked beautiful with her unconventional style. She knew it was more of an act of rebellion than fashion, however. Hannah made no secret of her restlessness as of late.
“How are ye feeling now?” Ivy asked as naturally as possible.
Hannah looked at her wide-eyed, then scoffed. “Och, that? I’m fine,” she said unconvincingly. Ivy opened her mouth to press the issue, but Hannah spoke for. “Well, fine’s a funny word and perhaps not fitting. I’m waiting, and I think that’s fine.”
“Waiting for what?”
Suckling on her lower lip, Hannah shrugged. “For something to happen, I think.” She sighed. “I ken it’s silly, but I want to start my own life, Ivy. I see ye and Blaine and yer bairns. I see Errol gone with Gilly to war… and I stop and think to mysel, well, what are ye doing, Hannah? And I think the answer is, naething much.”
Ivy shielded her eyes from the sun. “Could it be that ye want to go after Errol?”
“He’s capable of taking care of himself, I ken it. ‘Tis that, but nae that. Ach, dinnae concern yerself with it. Maybe ye cannae understand.”
“I can,” Ivy assured her. “I was yer age when I threw mysel from a ship to stop the waiting, dinnae ye remember?” She reached out to take Hannah’s hand. “Yer time will come, Hannah, and it will be glorious.”
“As someone’s wife?” she said dismissively.
“As whoever ye want to be.”
Slowly, Hannah seemed to settle. She wrestled with a smile, before coming to a stand. “Alba! Mirin!” she cried, running over to them to play.
Ivy laughed as she watched the MacKinnon girls at work, dreaming of freedom for them all, knowing she would do everything in her power to make that happen for them.
Suddenly, she heard rustling behind her, and Ivy snapped her head around. Blaine was ap-proaching from the courtyard, having returned from a meeting with the council, and looking worse the wear for it.
“I take it there were nae receptive to yer proposal?” Ivy asked cautiously, reaching up her hand for him to take.
He squeezed it and settled beside her, smiling as he caught sight of his daughters and his sister. Then his expression shifted, and his frustration wrote itself across his face. “Of course, they were nae. Nae council wants to watch their laird run off to war.” He swallowed hard and turned to face her. “Nae wife either, I ken it.”
“I dinnae want ye to leave, Blaine. But I ken what must be done.” She sat up straight and brushed the back of her hand against his face. “Yer brother needs ye. Yer country needs ye. Robert the Bruce needs ye most of all—I wager he willnae win this war without ye.”
“I think ye overestimate my importance in the grand scheme of things.”
“Maybe, but that’s my duty as yer wife, to think ye’re special. Nay,” she mewled, crawling closer to him, “to believe it in my heart of hearts. I’ll watch ye go, and I willnae like it, but I’ll ken it’s right. And I’ll be waiting for ye when ye return.”
“That was the one thing that I think began to convince them,” Blaine said, leaning into her touch before she pried her hand back. “Kenning that they would have ye to watch over them while I’m gone.”
“Now ye’re the one overestimating me, and their esteem.”
“Maybe, but that’s my duty as the man who loves ye.” Blaine broke into a smile, then settled back. “Shall I give ye yer gift now?”
Ivy almost choked. “Here? Ye really are mad!”
“Come now, Ivy. Ye ken I cannae share ye with anyone.” He grinned. “Nay, I have another gift for ye. Something I think ye’ll like even more.”
Tutting playfully, Blaine reached into the pack on his belt. He drew forth a small bundle in red cloth, about the size of Ivy’s hand. She fought a smile as she reached for it, surprised at how light it was. Gently, she unraveled the package, and when she saw what was inside, she reeled back.
In the palm of her hand, on a bed of red velvet, was the carving Peter had gifted to her all those years ago.
“Nay,” she breathed, her eyes misting over suddenly. “How did—” She thumbed the carving of that oddly shaped deer, recalling the coolness of its wood, the clumsy dents and curves that made it so special. “How?” she repeated, turning to Blaine incredulously.
He looked at her with love, and he tucked a strand of fallen hair behind her ear. “Years ago, Hannah told me of yer brother’s gift to ye. The only one ye’d ever received. I remembered it, and I didnae think it possible, but when last I ventured to St. Andrews, I asked Robert whether I could rummage around in his stores for something we’d lost at the clansmeet. Yer father didnae bring back yer belongings with him when he left.”
“Robert the Bruce kept it all this time?” she murmured in disbelief.
“I dinnae think he did it on purpose, my love. I found it in his stores, with all the other things guests had left.”
“I cannae believe it… ‘Tis akin to a miracle.”
“And ye dinnae believe in miracles?” Blaine teased. “Nae like jumping off a ship and swim-ming away? Nae, like walking through fire and living to tell the tale? Nae, like falling in love, and kenning it to be true? We’ve kenned miracles and more, Ivy.”
A tear fell upon the carving, and Ivy clutched it to her chest.
“Aye,” Ivy agreed. “Miracles and more.”
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If you want to know what lies ahead in our story, you may want to get the sequel…
Errol MacKinnon is presumed dead after fighting the English. In reality, he is imprisoned in Sir Wemyss’ dungeon until Edina Wemyss offers him a way out. But only if he takes her to his homeland, no questions asked. Little does he know that she has a mission on her own. And if she succeeds, his heart will be left in ruins…